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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Master vs Master

Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:19-31

Jesus had a running quarrel with the religious leaders of His day. It was often theoretical, centering on questions about keeping the Sabbath, obeying the Law, and so on. But it was also very practical, dealing with matters like money.

As it often is today, money was a touchy subject in Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisees. And the issue came to a head when Jesus squarely attacked their greed: “No servant can serve two masters,” He said, “either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The Pharisees’ response was predictable. Luke goes on to tell us, “The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.”

This most solemn parable, today’s Gospel lesson, was given by Jesus in response to the sneers of those who didn’t like what Jesus had to say about people who serve money. They weren’t just using their wealth; they were letting it rule them. Money was their master. It came close to being a god in their lives. These religious leaders who lived in luxury and lived in the love of money and all the things which money can buy, sneered at the idea of using their wealth for the benefit of others.

Their money was theirs! They had earned it! And they didn’t want any advice from Jesus as to how to use it. And then came this parable of the rich man and Lazarus, teaching, as it does, the terrible end of those who live only for the gratification of their own sinful and selfish desires.

In this parable Jesus teaches us with three tremendous contrasts between these two men: the contrast in life; the contrast in death; and the contrast in eternity.

But before we look at these contrasts, and their practical applications for us, we need to understand very clearly that the rich man did not go to Hell because he was rich, and Lazarus did not go to Abraham’s bosom because he was poor! There are multitudes of people who were rich in their lifetime who are now in Heaven, just as there are myriads of people who were poor in their lifetime who are now in Hell! Our relationship to Jesus Christ alone decides our eternal bliss or woe!!

The first contrast – their contrast in life, is a pretty dramatic one. The rich man was apparently part of a wealthy family with five brothers whose master was money too. Although he and his brothers were godless, nothing is said about him being vicious. He’s not described as being guilty of any glaring sin, or a monstrous member of society. He's not presented as a tyrant or an oppressor of the poor. If he’d been notoriously selfish or uncharitable, he wouldn’t have allowed Lazarus to lie in his gate day after day, asking for alms.

Without a doubt, he lived a luxurious, self-indulgent life, but he wasn’t condemned just because he was wealthy. He went to Hell because he failed to realize that he was God’s steward, with wealth and influence that could have been used for God’s glory, and for the spiritual and material benefit of his fellow man. So, it was his wickedness and not his wealth that brought him eternal misery. No vices or crimes are charged against him. His sin was that he lived only for the present.

Then there’s Lazarus, the beggar. In contrast to the rich man, he was poor and destitute. The rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen, the beggar in rags; the rich man lived in a stately mansion, the beggar was laid at the gate of the mansion; the rich man had a healthy well-nourished body, the beggar was full of sores; the rich man lived in luxury every day, the beggar lived on crumbs from his table; the rich man had physicians to care for him, the beggar had dogs to lick his sores.

But the merit of Lazarus wasn’t found in the sad fact that he was poor, helpless, and diseased. A beggar can be just as vile and filthy in his heart as he may be in his body. No, the thought is that while lying at the rich man’s gate, he learned contentment and trusted in God. He listened to Moses and the prophets and repented of his sins. As a son of Abraham, he found his help in God. And he ultimately went to Paradise not because he was poor and diseased, but because, in spite of his pitiful condition, he trusted in God.

I’m sure we’ve all heard people preaching a gospel of prosperity: “Do this – do that – and God will pour down material blessings on you.” Some television preachers have become wealthy with that message – some are in prison – it’s not new. Back in Jesus’ day, material blessing was thought to be a sign of righteousness. To be wealthy, to be prosperous, was an indication that God was smiling favorably on their conduct. Surely, they argued, God wouldn’t pour out His blessings on those with whom He was displeased! They viewed their comfortable homes, their lavish tables, their finely spun garments, their heavy purses as evidence that God was on their side, pouring out His good will in response to their righteous deeds… I wonder if we don’t think that way still sometimes?!

Where would that have left Jesus? He had no home of His own, no visible means of support, not even a purse! How could He claim to be God’s righteous representative, heralding a Kingdom now at hand? He set them straight quick enough, when He said, “You’re the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What’s highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.” Surprise!!

The two men Jesus portrayed were as opposite in death as they were in life. Jesus said, “The time came when the beggar died.” Nothing is said about his burial. He probably didn’t even have a burial unless it was in the potters’ field. A lot of beggars like Lazarus weren’t buried at all. When they were found dead, they were hauled off to Gehenna, the garbage dump that was continually burning and they were thrown into it. But although his body had a dishonorable end, the angels came and carried Lazarus’ spirit to Paradise.

With the rich man it was different. He died too, but we read that he was buried. He probably had a dandy funeral, with hired mourners and all the pageantry of woe that money could buy! But no angels carried him to Abraham’s bosom. Instead, he went straight to Hell! In his death, he was more of a beggar than Lazarus had ever been! He went into eternity stripped bare of all he’d possessed, and with the terrible realization that an eternal inheritance would never be his! How different it would have been if God, and not gold, had been first in his life! What a terrible surprise greeted the rich man at his death!

How perfectly these two men exemplified Jesus’ words: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh… But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”

The rich man never caught the truth of God’s word – so the truth of God’s word caught him!

Having come from eternity, there was no one more qualified than Jesus to speak with authority of the life to come. And although this is a parable of Jesus and not a description of Hades and Paradise – nor Heaven and Hell – what can’t be denied, as we read our Lord’s description of the afterlife, is this is a state of conscious existence, with the continued use of our faculties. To Lazarus, Paradise was a place and state of highest joy and heavenly communion. For the rich man, Hell was the place and condition of remorse, suffering, and woe. The contrast between the two is given by Jesus: “Lazarus is comforted here and you are in agony.”

Conscious of his doom the rich man prayed that Lazarus might be sent as an evangelist to his five brothers who were on their way to the same place of torment. Reminds you of Dicken’s “Christmas Carol”, doesn’t it? Jacob Marley was no example on earth either, but Hell made an example of him – to Scrooge. With all his frightening ball and chains, he returned morally sensitive. And when old Ebenezer tried the compliment, “You were always a good man of business, Jacob,” the ghost screamed, “Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business.” Hell was doing the same thing for the rich man in Jesus’ story.

But Lazarus wouldn’t have had any success with his brothers. Later on, another Lazarus was raised from the dead. What effect did his resurrection have on the wealthy, self-satisfied Pharisees? They tried to kill him and did kill the One who raised him. Then Jesus rose from the dead, and they tried to kill everyone who followed Him!

Nothing spectacular or miraculous can have any effect on people if the Word of God isn’t believed and obeyed. We have no light beyond the revelation of God.

So, what does this story of Jesus have to say to us here today? I don’t suppose any of us think we’re in a right relation with God because of our material well-being. You do realize, don’t you, that the poorest of us are many times better off materially than the rich man in this story?! But how about your family, your friends, your neighbors, your fellow students, your fellow workers?

Do they realize that man cannot serve two masters – you can’t serve both God and money?

Do they realize that if they gain the whole world and lose their soul, their loss will be eternal?

Do they realize that the choice they make on earth determines their life to come? And such a choice is final? The grave doesn’t work miracles.

Do they realize that in the future personality continues: feeling, knowing, seeing, reasoning, and remembering. Will these faculties aid their bliss or add to their torment?

Heaven and Hell are realities, and our eternal destiny depends, not upon wealth or poverty, but upon our relationship to Jesus Christ – who came as prophesied by Moses and the prophets – as the Savior of the world.

May God help us to tell others that One has risen from the dead – for them! What a wonderful surprise!


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